HEALTH Minister Terrence Deyalsingh told the Senate he was planning booster shots for teenagers against covid19, even as he also talks to manufacturers about obtaining vaccines for children age 5-11. He was replying to an urgent question from Independent Senator Dr Maria Dillon-Remy who had asked about any new Government strategies against covid19, given the deaths of four children and the threat posed by the new omicron strain.
Deyalsingh said on Saturday the Government had imposed travel bans of eight southern African nations to help slow the entry of the omicron strain to Trinidad and Tobago and had engaged Port Health units with increased surveillance from all countries where omicron was a concern. "We have enhanced our gene sequencing capability at UWI and now for the first time at Carpha. This will help us surveil for the omicron variant." He boasted of a public education campaign for children including using radio interviews.
"On the treatment side we have increased our capacity for paediatric ICUs for covid19 for children and we have localised it at Arima General Hospital where we have eight ICUs. So you have a team dedicated to paediatric ICU care."
He expected a pending procurement of anti-viral and antibody medications from suppliers to be a game changer for dealing with covid19.
"Yesterday (Monday) we announced, dealing very proactively, the start-up in one or two weeks (of) a booster programme for children 12-18 who have already received their first shot of the Pfizer vaccines. We are currently in talks with all the vaccine manufacturers to procure vaccines for the 5-11 age group. We have been working diligently behind the scenes."
He urged parents to get on board. "We had one sad case. It's in the public domain so I'm not breaching any confidentiality. Parents of one child who waited three days and kept their child at home. That death could possibly have been avoided."
Deyalsingh said among youngsters age 12-18, some 54,000 had taken a first vaccine, of whom some 48,000 had also taken a second vaccine, as he lamented a high degree of vaccine hesitancy among parents regarding their children.
He urged as many people as possible amid the one million people aged 18-and-over and the 100,000 youngsters age 12-18 to get vaccinated so as to promote herd immunity as a protection to children 0-11 who cannot yet be vaccinated.
A Ministry of Health statement later said they are considering issuing booster doses to fully vaccinated people soon.
The ministry now has a strategic stock of 690,625 covid19 vaccines.
These include two shipments in the past 3 weeks totalling 235,000 vaccines, comprised of 151,200 doses of Johnson and Johnson vaccine from the African Medical Supply platform on November 6, and 84,000 doses of Sinopharm vaccine from the Covax facility on November 27.
The ministry said its response was "proactive and ever-evolving" so as to protect the population and prepare for unforeseen eventualities.
"As such, this present stock of vaccines is deliberately in excess of the national requirement, given the unpredictable nature of covid19 and the frequent emergence of variants of concern.
"The ministry will provide further information on the launch and roll-out of the covid19 Booster Programme as soon as the details are finalised."
The statement said vaccination combined with public health measures could reduce covid19 transmission and save lives and livelihoods.